LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 4
PERFORMER: Myra Hess (piano); LPO/Adrian Boult
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4111-2 ADD mono
In recent years the small number of Myra Hess’s studio recordings has been enriched by the publication of live performances from various archives. Since this has amplified the image posterity retains of her – not just the grandly coiffed heroine of wartime National Gallery concerts but one of Britain’s greatest-ever pianists – it’s all to the good. She hated those studio recordings, which do on occasion reveal traces of the constraints induced in her by the experience. This second BBC Legends Hess issue is even more successful than the first (containing the Beethoven Second and Fifth Concertos and reviewed in June 2000) in displaying her sovereign artistry when caught live and on the wing.
However, it is not uniformly successful. The concertos date from 1961, the year after her stroke – the later, Mozart’s A major from the Festival Hall, was indeed her farewell to concerts. Though movingly partnered by Boult, and graced by much of her peculiar luminosity and poetry of touch and elevation of spirit, it takes some while to get off the ground, not helped by the blurred, at times hissy recording.
But the Beethoven G major soars. It comes from the 1961 Proms, is again alertly Boult-accompanied but is cleaner in sound. Hess was, in the words of her pupil Stephen Kovacevich, ‘a virtuoso in sound’; the first chord, emerging from silence, pregnant with colour and meaning, bears that out, as does the slow movement’s steady songfulness and the finale’s radiance. Two Mozart solos in 1958 BBC studio recordings round out the disc: perhaps more for Hess cognoscenti than first-time buyers of the works in question, but full of beauty nonetheless. Max Loppert